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Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 01:00 UK

Puntland turns against Somali pirates

A man walks through 100-Bushes camp in Bosasso
Camps like 100-Bushes house about 40,000 displaced people

By Peter Greste
BBC News, Bossasso, Puntland

If Somalia's pirates find the Gulf of Aden a rich hunting ground for ships to hijack, the bleak camps for displaced people overlooking the gulf offer rich pickings for pirate gangs looking for recruits.

The oldest of the camps is called "100-Bushes", named by locals with a grim sense of humour.

They drive around in expensive cars, they offer our sons lots of money, so of course piracy is an exciting option
A mother living in 100-Bushes camp

Thousands of makeshift shelters huddle together in the heat and dust on the fringes of the old port city in Somalia's northern province of Puntland.

There is not a blade of grass - let alone 100 bushes - anywhere in sight. The oldest shelters have been here for more than a decade. They look like they were thrown together last week.

The shelters are built around frames of sticks salvaged from the beaches and lashed together with bits of wire and twine.

They are clad in whatever their owners can find: Scraps of plastic, flattened tin cans, paper bags and, if the owners are lucky, sheets of rusting corrugated iron.

The 40,000 people who live in camps like 100-Bushes across Puntland have drifted in over the years, seeking refuge from the apocalyptic horrors in southern Somalia - civil war, drought and famine.

Two Somali girls wait for medical checks at a local health centre
This is little schooling and few prospects for residents of the camps

Out here, there are no jobs. Only one in three children are in school, and the future for most is anything but promising.

No wonder then that mothers like Mumena Abdur Qadir are worried about their children - either that they will end up just as poor and destitute as their parents or that they will become pirates.

"They drive around in expensive cars, they offer our sons lots of money, so of course piracy is an exciting option," she says.

"But nobody likes them any more, and now it's really dangerous. The (French and the Americans) have been killing pirates, so we think it's a really bad thing to do."

Christian Balslev-Olesen also despairs. As Unicef's outgoing special representative to Somalia, he believes just a little more international effort in social services like schools and healthcare could give youngsters a decent prospect of a future that does not involve piracy.

Mr Balslev-Olesen visited the camps around Bossasso on his farewell tour, along with the British Unicef ambassador Martin Bell (the former member of parliament and BBC broadcaster).

Puntland President Abdirahman Mohammed Farole on the battle against the pirates

"We've seen here that we can make life so much better for these people, just by building a few good schools and giving kids an education.

"It's wonderful to see what can be achieved, but frustrating that it is so hard to get the support we need," Mr Balslev-Olsesen said.

When they began, Somalia's pirates cast themselves as "Robin Hoods of the sea" - as defenders of the nation's fisheries, first chasing away and later capturing foreign trawlers that had been looting the country's rich and unpoliced seas.

Much of the money they took as "fines" went back into local schools, hospitals and businesses. No longer.

"They're responsible for so many problems," said Abdifatah Hussein Mohamed. As an activist with the Puntland Students' Association, Abdifatah and his friends have created a multi-media empire.

Sometimes women go with them because they promise lots of money. But they also divorce their wives very quickly too. It's bad for everybody
Bossasso resident Mohamed Jama

From their stuffy, cramped headquarters in central Bossasso, they churn out TV programmes, radio shows, magazines and websites with a single, simple message - piracy is out.

"First, they are responsible for inflation," he complained. "Now, food, land, cars are all too expensive for ordinary people. It used to be that you could hope for these things, but not any more.

"Then, they bring in prostitutes, they take drugs, they crash their cars. They rape whoever they want and nobody can do anything about it. Nobody wants them around any more."

His friend, Mohamed Jama agreed: "They are causing a lot of problems in the family.

"Sometimes women go with them because they promise lots of money. But they also divorce their wives very quickly too. It's bad for everybody."

Of course, casting pirates as social outcasts will not solve the issue alone, but the government believes that isolating them from their communities is a promising first step.

Funds needed

What the Puntland administration wants now is the support the international community has promised so vehemently over the past few months.

map

President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole complains that he is a victim of political ideology.

"So many governments promised to help fight piracy on land, and that's a good thing," he said. "But they are all talking to the central government in Mogadishu. That's a policy decision, but it is a waste of time.

"The TFG (transitional federal government) only controls a piece of Mogadishu. They have no authority up here. So the rest of the world has to recognise that there are two legitimate governments in northern Somalia - Puntland and Somaliland - and deal directly with us if they want anything done."

Somaliland declared independence in 1991 after military leader Siad Bare's regime collapsed; Puntland opted for autonomy in 1998. Both regions set up their own administrations though neither has been formally recognised by any other government.

President Abdirahman believes that he could bring piracy under control with barely a 10th of the money that shipping companies are paying out as ransoms.

Somali boys at the camp in Bosasso
Groups are working to convince young people piracy is not their only option

"With $7m (£4.4m) or $8m, we could set up security services and a coastguard that could stop this in its tracks… But the rest of the world has also created this problem by paying out ransoms," he said.

"They must stop paying ransoms and give us the permission and resources to fight (pirates) at sea."

But the president also acknowledges that such a strategy would come at a price.

"We can't make decisions for the companies, especially when their ships and the lives of their crews are at risk. But sometimes you have to take big risks if you want results."

It is a risk the international community has so far been unwilling to take.

When first loaded, the map's focus falls on Somalia where most of the pirates are based. Use the arrow icons to scroll left towards Europe and the United States which are both playing a central role in tackling the problem.

Scroll to the right for a story about the Philippines, which supplies many of the world's mariners.

You can zoom in for more detail by using the "+" or "-" signs on the upper left hand side.



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